A few weeks ago, I attended a retreat for people all over the Synod of the Northeast. While we were worshiping, a young mother with a child began to get up and leave the service. She did so because her young one was making noise (imagine that! a young child making noise!). As she left, someone next to me looked at her and said compassionately, "you don't have to leave." The mother smiled but left nonetheless.
The woman who had invited her to stay actually left the worship service and followed the mother out the door. A few minutes later, the woman and the child returned to worship with the rest of us. I feel it safe to assume that the woman spoke to the mother and re-affirmed her invitation. The woman must have believed that worship is a place for all persons, regardless of age and regardless of their ability to be "decent and in order" (as us Presbyterians so often obsess over).
This, friends, is a radical welcome. We need more of this in our churches and worshiping communities.
At this retreat, we talked about getting to a place of "deeper welcome." So often, we were told, we take "welcome" to mean "you're welcome to join us here were we are comfortable." This model of welcome is a very self-centered approach that doesn't embody the radical inclusivity that Jesus practiced and preached.
A deeper welcome is a welcome in which we say "you are welcome here and, to prove it, I am going to come to you in your reality and not expect it the other way around." Many churches are worried about dwindling numbers but are unwilling to explore this deeper welcome that is so very prevalent in Jesus' actions in the Gospels.
I learned something very valuable that day. I must be challenged to see things from others perspectives. As long as my definition of welcome comes from my vantage point of comfort, it will get me nowhere and I will be no where closer to embodying what it is that Jesus is calling me, and us, to do.
So, friends, welcome to a "deeper welcome." What are the ways in your community that you practice a deeper welcome?